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“We never took up our lives again. We’re like at a railroad station waiting for a train that never comes in.”
Those words are spoken by the character Chris Keller in Act 1 of Arthur Miller‘s 1947 play All My Sons, where he is suggesting to his mother that rather than once again revisiting the grief of losing his brother Larry, they would be better off forgetting him and moving on, because clinging to memories of the past is carrying too high a cost for the family.
Those lines from Miller’s first commercially successful play come to mind because of one of the items in the 2015 Wastebook, where it would appear that the U.S. Department of Transportation would rather cling to the past instead of living in today’s world, spending $500,000 to relocate and refurbish a long-abandoned South Dakota train depot instead of addressing today’s transportation needs:
One out of every four of the 5,875 bridges in South Dakota is structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Yet, the state spent $500,000 of federal transportation funds to refurbish a train depot decommissioned in 1958 to be a museum of sorts.
The Chicago and North Western railroad built the Fort Pierre depot in 1906, but for the past 50 years it has been serving as a farm building on a ranch 176 miles away. The structure had to be transported back on a moving truck.
Those involved with the project “have resisted saying” the depot is going to be a museum because the federal Transportation Enhancement grant paying for the project “wouldn’t pay for building or refurbishing a museum. But it would pay for refurbishing a transportation artifact.” While they may be trying to cover their tracks, this project clearly violates the program’s intent.
The money is paying to refurbish “an artifact that will hold other artifacts – virtually all, in one way or another, having to do with the railroad that brought everything to the middle of South Dakota once the depot opened in 1906,” explains Gary Grittner of Fort Pierre’s Bring It Home Committee.
It’s pretty amazing how real life is reflecting the dramatized conflicts driving Miller’s characters. The people who can’t let go of the past can’t be honest about why they’re doing what they’re doing, because if they were, it would be clearly recognized as the wasteful activity it is and they wouldn’t be allowed to do it with U.S. Transportation Department funds (it’s not like the federal government doesn’t dedicate other money for such purposes). Meanwhile, people who could be doing more to benefit their lives today are stuck with a deteriorating quality of life because they can’t redirect the federal resources being wastefully consumed by improperly memorializing the past.